Saturday, October 10, 2009

Halve the Calf Salve

The President’s Cup is in play this weekend, so the word halve is showing up far more frequently than usual. (“Tiger sinks the putt to halve the hole.”)

Most words containing an -lv- sequence insist on having the -l- pronounced, such as solve or valve. There are a few exceptions that retain the letter -l- but do not pronounce it. Consider calve, halve, and salve.

Calve, meaning to give birth, is indebted to various Germanic and Scandinavian terms meaning a bovine calf; it appeared in print in the year 1,000. Later, the word was used to describe a chunk of ice breaking off from a glacier or an iceberg.

The verb halve developed from the noun half, indebted to a combination of Germanic and
Scandinavian words meaning side. The original idea was that objects had a left side and a right side. Focusing just on one was halving the object (one-siding it). The noun half showed up in print in 700, and the verb halve in 1300.

Salve descended from various Teutonic words that were cognates to a Sanskrit word meaning oily butter. The first written instance goes back to 700.

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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